May 17, 2006

US says concerned at al Qaeda in Somalia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday it
was concerned al Qaeda is establishing a presence in Somalia
but would not say whether Washington is backing Somali warlords
fighting Islamic militants there.

Somalia lacks a functioning government and the United
States fears Somalia is a potential haven for extremists.

Militia battles have been waged over the past week between
militants linked to the Islamic courts, which have imposed
order on parts of Mogadishu through traditional Islamic law,
and a self-styled anti-terror alliance of warlords.

Asked whether Washington was working with the so-called
anti-terror alliance of warlords, White House spokesman Tony
Snow said "there is concern about the presence of foreign
terrorists, particularly Al Qaeda, within Somalia right now.

"In an environment of instability, as we've seen in the
past, al Qaeda may take root, and we want to make sure that al
Qaeda does not in fact establish a beachhead in Somalia," Snow

Americans have bad memories of U.S. involvement in Somalia.
On Oct 3 and 4, 1993, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed and 79
injured in a battle in Mogadishu with Somali guerrilla fighters
loyal to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

As for the current situation, Snow said "the terrorists are
going to seek to take advantage of the environment and use that
kind of chaos in order to put together camps and therefore
mount operations around the world."

"We will continue to work with regional and international
partners wherever we can to crack down on terrorism and also to
try to prevent its rising," he added.

He also said Somalia needs a functioning government and
that Washington support transitional federal institutions there
that are trying to re-establish a central government that can
end the civil conflict.